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Helping People Address Their Problems with Plastic
& To Be Kinder To the Environment

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The Plastic Problem & The Environment

Discarded plastic bags clogging up drains, entangled in fences and entangled in brush.

Plastic bottles in gutters, yards, fields and beaches.


When used properly, plastic is a wonderful thing: it's made many things in our life much more convenient. Unfortunately, people think of plastic as disposable rather than reusable or recyclable, and discarded plastic is not only ugly on the landscape, it's also harmful, as we see in the massive garbage flows in the ocean, dead animals that have choked to death or suffocated because of plastic, and reports of toxic substances released into Earth and water from discarded plastic. Plastic is causing huge environmental problems.

In developing countries, discarded plastic bags and bottles are a particular problem: on a trip to Romania in 2008, the amount of trash along the roads, in fields and even on the beach was staggering to me. As a tourist, it made me want to move through certain regions quickly -- no desire to stay and spend my money on food, accommodations or museum entry fees in an environment that looked so bad. Imagine if I had been a potential investor in the country, looking to start a hotel; one look at some of the landscape and I would have decided against investing my money there. But it's not a problem limited to developing countries; ever been to Naples, Italy?

More resources on why discarded plastic is bad for the environment and people

Why Address the Plastic Problem?

Addressing the problem of discarded plastic in a developing country can:

  • give local people income-generation activities
  • make the environment cleaner and safer for both people, livestock, wildlife and plants
  • give local people a greater sense of ownership, caring and pride in their environment, and that can translate into being more active to address other environmental issues
  • make a location more appealing to travelers, potential investors and others who have money to spend in an area
  • reduce waste management costs for a local government
Where to Start? Detail the Problem

The first goal is to clearly illustrate that the problem of discarded plastic is pervasive in a particular region. Nothing does this better than photos and field visits.

Take lots and lots of photos that illustrate the problem of discarded plastic. Encourage local people to submit their own photos (easily done with cell phones). All photos should have a location name and date. Post these photos on a web site of your own and an account on Flickr (create a group on Flickr specifically for these photos from your region or country).

See if the government or any NGOs working in the area have reports on the problems of waste management in your area; you do this by contacting agencies directly, searching on the Internet, and contacting a local university library to see if they can help you find such research. Quote from these reports on your web site to support your message that discarded plastic is a problem in a particular village, region or country.

Illustrate the life-cycle of plastic, specifically on how long it takes to degrade in the environment, and why this is a problem.

If you can convince people that discarded plastic is a problem, you will have an easier time of getting them to recycle and reuse plastic, or to seek more environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic.

Getting People to Change Their Ways

Your goal is to get people to change their ways regarding how they use and discard plastic, particularly plastic bags and plastic bottles. Your goal is to get more people to recycle and reuse plastic, and to seek more environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic.

You get your environmental message out via:

  • street/campus presentations, presentations at clubs and associations and communities of faith (temples, mosques, churches),
  • presentations in cafeterias during lunch time, etc.
  • interviews and public service announcements on local radio
  • your organization's web site
  • your organization's FaceBook status, and your status on other online social networking
  • online videos on YouTube
  • video PSAs for local television
  • partnerships with environmental NGOs working in your area

Changing people's ways is easier said than done!

Some things you want to encourage people to do regarding recycling and reusing plastic, and regarding seeking more environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic:

Walk your talk: everyone involved in your effort should be engaging in the aforementioned practices. If you have an office, you should have recycled plastic bottles as planters in the windows. When you go to the store, you yourself should bring your own bags or be using bags made from woven plastic bags. Do not purchase small bottles of water for your office. With your own actions, show how easy it is to change behaviors and to recycle, reuse, or even refuse plastic.

Show Results

Showcase how people take your ideas and incorporate them into their lives. Take photos of their work and put it on your own Flickr site or web site. Encourage the press to cover the results of your efforts. Send a press release to local government officials talking about the results of your efforts. Show photos of these results at your public presentations.

Also see

2017 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.


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2010-17 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.

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